Here is the part of the transcript of the first 2012 presidential debate that concerns Big Bird. Debate moderator Jim Lehrer had asked: “What are the differences between the two of you as to how you would go about tackling the deficit problem in this country?”
What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test — if they don’t pass it: Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I’ll get rid of it. “Obamacare” is on my list. I apologize, Mr. President. I use that term with all respect.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I like it.
MR. ROMNEY: Good. OK, good. (Laughter.) So I’ll get rid of that. I’m sorry, Jim. I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it. That’s number one.
Bob Hanle of Madison, Wisconsin had this reaction, registered as a comment on Gail Collins’ column about the debate:
“Public broadcasting accounts for 0.015% (15 hundredths of 1%) of the federal budget. Big Bird may be tall, but he lives on chicken feed.”
PBS has issued a statement that says in part:
We are very disappointed that PBS became a political target in the Presidential debate last night. Governor Romney does not understand the value the American people place on public broadcasting and the outstanding return on investment the system delivers to our nation….
For more than 40 years, Big Bird has embodied the public broadcasting mission – harnessing the power of media for the good of every citizen, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay. Our system serves as a universally accessible resource for education, history, science, arts and civil discourse.